Hawaii COVID-19 survivor hospitalized for 88 days: ‘Every minute of every day, I was in pain’

Updated: Nov. 26, 2020 at 11:32 PM HST
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KAILUA, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Jack Denis didn’t think he’d live to see his 73rd birthday.

The retired Honolulu fire captain and former marine marked the milestone while he was hospitalized for COVID-19.

Denis was taken to Adventist Health Castle Medical Center on March 30 when he developed coronavirus symptoms after returning from a cruise with his wife in Australia and New Zealand.

“I started feeling sick,” he said, in a hoarse whisper resulting from months with a tube down his throat. “I thought it was something I ate.”

“We found out later that the cruise prior to ours that had disembarked in Sydney had COVID patients on it, but they still let us on the ship,” said his wife, Donna.

“And the workers had COVID,” Jack Denis quickly added.

Denis was one of the earliest coronavirus patients in Hawaii, and doctors were still learning about how to treat the new disease.

“I took care of him for — I think he was in the ICU for two months,” said Dr. Dan Bendtsen, an intensive care unit physician at Castle. “Very rocky road at that point in time.”

“At one time, in ICU, the doctors were standing around my bed, and I could hear them talking.” said Denis. “They gave me a 10 to 20% chance of surviving.”

Denis described the agony of his hospitalization.

“I had so much needles. So much tubes in me,” he said. “Every minute of every day, I was in pain.”

Denis was close to giving up.

“I was tired of it already. I was getting ready to rip up the room and tell them I want to go home. If I going die, I’d rather die at home, in her arms,” he said, as he looked at his wife.

But his wife wasn’t having it. Unable to visit him in person, she called him on the phone.

“And she was yelling at me, ‘Don’t you die,’” Jack recalled. “’You’re an ex-marine. You’re a combat vet. You’re a fireman, 27 years. You can do this. We can do this, together.’”

Denis was finally released from Adventist Health Castle on June 26 — 88 days after he was admitted.

He knows that he easily could have been among the 235 deaths in Hawaii, and the nearly 260,000 deaths nationwide. He has nothing but praise for the doctors and nurses — and for Donna.

“If it wasn’t for them, and her, I’d be just another number,” he said. “Because when they say ‘another COVID death,’ they don’t say the name. I’d be just a number.”

And Denis still has a lot of fight in him. He had a sharp rebuke for those debating whether to wear a mask.

“They’re stupid. They’re stupid. Tell them I said so. Come see me. I’ll show you.”

Donna Denis also tested positive for COVID-19, but had only mild symptoms. The cruise line refunded their money, but the couple is part of two class action lawsuits filed against the cruise line.

Denis’ medical team was definitely glad to see him recovering.

“Thanks, Jack, and I’m glad you’re doing so good,” Bendtsen told him. “It’s really heartwarming to see.”

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